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Steam Spotlight: Crypt of the NecroDancer for Windows

Welcome to our new feature, Steam Spotlight! Every weekend we will look at a different game available on Steam, the popular digital distribution platform for Windows computers. With the indie gaming scene exploding on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, many of these titles will eventually make their way to consoles. But why wait when you can play exciting titles on your Surface Pro or PC right now?

Today's Spotlight title is Crypt of the NecroDancer from Brace Yourself Games and Klei Entertainment, makers of XBLA hit Mark of the Ninja (opens in new tab). Take one part dungeon crawler, one part rhythm game, another part "Roguelike," mix them cleverly together and you have NecroDancer. Exploring super-tough dungeons while hopping to catchy beats is a fresh and engrossing experience.

Read on for our detailed impressions and slam dancin' video review!

Falling to the NecroDancer (plus Video review)

In the game's well-drawn and fully voiced introduction, we meet the main heroine Cadence. Her father Dorian, an adventurer, has gone missing in the Crypt of the NecroDancer. Strong-willed Cadence sets out alone to rescue him. Unfortunately, she falls into a trap and dies – briefly.

The evil NecroDancer soon appears and revives Cadence. Although she lives again, she does so with a curse. Her heart now "beats to the music." Will she be able to keep the beat, rescue her father, and defeat the one who cursed her? Well somebody's gotta!

This rogue moves to the beat

NecroDancer has many characteristics of the Roguelike genre, including:

  • Randomly generated dungeon layouts, so every playthrough is different
  • A large number of helpful and harmful items to discover
  • Step-based combat (bump into enemies rather than pressing an attack button)
  • (Optional) permadeath

What makes this game different from others is its focus on music. Every floor of every dungeon has extremely memorable music from Super Meatboy and Binding of Isaac composer Danny Baranowsky that instills the game with energy and vigor. (You can also use your own MP3s.) And on top of that, the player(s) and enemies move to the beat.

Say what? As you play, beat bars at the bottom of the screen indicate the beat of the current floor's song. By moving along to the beat, players will build up a gold multiplier so that gold dropped from enemies is worth more. Slip up and move out of step or get hit and your multiplier reverts to the default.

Meanwhile, every type of enemy in the game moves and attacks according to its own beat-based patterns. Some enemies attack every other beat, every four beats, etc. Since you usually don't have ranged shots, you'll have to learn when to attack the bad guys (or from which direction) without getting hit.

The beat thing sounds complicated, and NecroDancer certainly has a learning curve. But play for a few hours and you'll start to intuitively feel each floor's beat without having to look at the beat bars. Losing your gold multiplier when you mess up isn't a severe punishment, so you can get decently far without paying attention to the beat mechanics.

Seeking riches and upgrades

Like Rogue Legacy and similar games, NecroDancer starts out hard. You're likely to die well before reaching the fourth floor boss of the first dungeon. Although you can't continue from where you left off, things do get a little easier each run – as long as you find enough diamonds.

Each floor has a specific number of gems to find; the first dungeon's floors all contain two diamonds apiece. Sometimes they sit out in the open; other times Cadence and her family must dig through the walls to find them. (Digging through walls to create new paths and find secrets is an enjoyable mechanic, by the way.)

After dying, players return to the lobby – NecroDancer's hub world. There you can pay several vendors for new items and upgrades. You don't get to just use those items, though. Instead they get added to the pool of things that will appear in chests and at shops during each run. Better equipment to find does make the game a lot easier though, so don't stop hunting those diamonds! Any unspent gems are lost whenever you start a new run.

Every enemy our heroes kill drops coins. These can only be spent at shops during levels, not between lives. Each non-boss floor has one shop to discover, surrounded by gold brick walls. The vendor sells a random assortment of three weapons, armor, and items. As long as you've killed enough enemies and/or kept your multiplier up, you should be able to buy some of his wares.

That's how NecroDancer's difficulty becomes manageable. If you can just manage to find a decent weapon in a chest or make it to the shop with some gold at the start of your run, you should be able to equip yourself well enough to survive farther into the dungeon.

Saving others from the Crypt

Cadence has several long term goals other than simply buying every available upgrade with the diamonds she finds. First, she needs to clear all three progressively harder zones (dungeons). Eventually the developers will add a fourth zone as well. Thankfully the dungeons don't have to be completed in a single run unless you're playing Hardcore mode.

Next she needs to rescue all eight characters, including several members of her family. Clearing a new zone for the first time will unlock one person. Several others have been locked away within cages that appear in the dungeons. You'll have to find or buy a key to get them out, which sometimes proves easier said than done. One final clan member will unlock once the super-tough Hardcore mode is beaten.

Each of these characters plays a little differently. Bard (my favorite pick) doesn't have to move to the beat; Monk dies if he touches gold; Bolt moves super-fast; and more. Few characters make the game easier – they mostly add variety and challenge.

Controls and co-op

NecroDancer supports keyboards, controllers, or USB dance pads. I can't speak to how the latter affects the game, but I have tried keyboard and controller.

When playing with a keyboard, you only need the four arrow keys. NecroDancer doesn't use an attack button. Hopping into a monster attacks it, after all. But players do pick up bombs, food, items and spells that can be used at will. These are activated by pressing combinations of the arrow keys. I'm not crazy about playing most games on keyboard, but the simple four-key controls fit the game like a glove.

The game also supports local co-op play, allowing two players to hop around on the same screen together. Co-op makes things easier, in that your field of view increases and you can team up against enemies. Reaching a new floor after a partner has fallen will revive him or her too. But you don't share pick-ups, so rationing the items your team finds can be tough.

Sharing a keyboard is not the most appealing prospect, so I recommend plugging in an Xbox controller for the second player. Controllers work great for general movement, but item use gets a little tricky. The game won't just map items to every button like it should – say, X uses Item 1, Y uses Item 2, etc.

Instead, it maps the combinations of directions that activate items to each button. Pressing X might perform Up + Right, using the corresponding item, for instance. Problem is, some of those same directional combinations (diagonals) are easy to hit unintentionally when you're just trying to walk around. My co-op partner kept laying bombs and hurting herself by mistake. Eventually we realized bad item mapping for controllers is at fault. Luckily the devs tell us they will improve controller mapping soon.

Crypt under construction

Steam Early Access is a program in which developers release unfinished games to market, allowing players to enjoy them and provide feedback as development work continues. NecroDancer is an Early Access game, and thus not completely finished. The developers do update it frequently though, and they plan to complete it within the next few months.

At present, only three of the four planned dungeons are playable. Cadence and team can't actually defeat the NecroDancer and complete the story just yet. But the game still offers tons to do. Those three dungeons took me around a dozen hours to finish. Players can also keep busy with the Daily Challenge and Hardcore mode, the latter of which ignores any upgrades you've unlocked and pumps up the difficulty to maddening levels.

Action-RPGs are quite common in the modern gaming landscape. But never before has a dungeon crawler so deeply integrated music into its game design. The rhythm-based gameplay and addictive Roguelike mechanics combine to make a totally distinct adventure. If you like a good challenge, then step into the Crypt and get hopping!

  • Crypt of the NecroDancer – Windows, Mac, and Linux – $14.99 ($24.99 with MP3 soundtrack) – Steam Link

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

74 Comments
  • Nice to see Windows games getting some attention also.    
  • Looks like an interesting game, hope to see it on Xbox in the future
  • This game is hard as nails. I've streamed it before, you will die, a lot.
  • Live, die, repeat.....ala Shadowguns....
  • If we get steam spotlight it means that msft will buy steam o:
  • No, Steam will be getting Office and Cortana.
  • Oh shit I never thought about that they could get Office since they sell software now
  • Oh God
    I miss Golden Axe Sega Master System version
  • The Sega Genesis and arcade versions were sooo much better. You can buy a great Golden Axe collection on Xbox 360 for cheap though. :)
  • Thanks bro :D I'm checking that out
  • Oh yeah, here's my review of it: Golden Axe Trilogy review :D
  • 21th century and WC make review of pixelated games. WOW! Please give us some more like minecraft or flappybird... /sarcasm Articles like this make me delete my account here.
  • Bitchy comments make me want to delete my account
  • Bitchy?!? lol ... grow up the same way this site need to grow up. EDIT: Let me explain my previous post... As I can see you have 1520, soooo you bitched for device with full hd screen only to play games with pixelated graphics? Nice! I applaud you for that.
  • And then for lots of other people, full HD game graphics on alot of modern games is all they have. At least games like this still have thought in them other than just fancy graphics. To many games nowadays are just a wow factor then make you buy it in increments with dlc crap.
  • I agree with you, Zero. I find myself enjoying eye candy in my games like many others, but it is also annoying when a game (The Order: 1886) tries to exchange good gameplay for pixels and polygon. That doesn't stop me from having gripes with the incessant outpouring of visually unappealling indie titles that simply steal old ideas and try to make a tweak and call it new. Such things really bother me when we see the 15,000th indie platformer or interactive movie. None of that is to pick one side or the other of the argument, because both are flawed viewpoints. Graphics do not equate to gameplay quality or fun, but that also doesn't excuse poor/lazy graphics in all instances, especially when you have Epic make UE4 free to use and free of profit-sharing under $3,000.
  • Sure, but 3D graphics (Unreal Engine) don't inherently trump 2D graphics. I feel that this game's art style is perfect for the kind of game it is. In 3D, the same characters would almost certainly show a lot less personality. There are plenty of different 2D art styles they could have chosen, but nothing would look drastically different from the end result. As far as indie games go, the choice of art style often comes down to what kind of game the devs want to make and what they can afford. The big studios with the big money make games in flashier genres and pour tons of money into graphics. Indie games exist and thrive because they meet needs that big-budget games seldom address. How much money the indie dev throws at graphics is seldom a factor (unless they really bungle the art, which does happen with super indie games sometimes).
  • Can't you just keep your word and delete your account, so we don't have to hear your whining?
  • Ahhh, there is my good friend, Keith. Always has a solution...
  • Ahh, and there's the kinf od the tools, who went on a profane rant in another thread about not wanting gaming articles, yet keeps going into them and tries to pick Internet fights. Your comment is the exact definition of trolling.
  • The graphics are appropriate for the style of game. Your criticism really doesn't hold water. Hence everyone jumped on you for it.
  • This was a featured indie game at PAX EAST in 2014. I think the point is they're trying to do reviews of indie games on here and having seen/played it at PAX myself this was definitely a game that generated a lot of buzz as the line for it was almost as long as it was for Wolfenstein and some other big games (except for evolve of course). I struggled hard core with it and so knew I wouldn't buy it but its nice to see a review. Why dont you just SIMMADOWNOW
  • Only wannabes put graphics over gameplay
  • Truth.
  • Looks like steam advertisement to me...
  • It's Microsoft's own damn fault that valve has been dominating the Windows gaming market. Under Ballmer MS has completely abadoned the Windows gaming space and complete failures like GFWL and with it games like AOEO and Flight are the reason why Steam rose to prominence. It all went downhill when they disbanded Ensemble, and now with Phil Spencer in charge, despite the promises of re-commitment to PC gaming we have seen nothing to suggest MS has really started to invest back in Windows games. If MS was serious we would see AOE4, Halo MCC and other big AAA titles comming to Windows, but so far nothing; and by the looks of it MS is about to destroy another gaming franchise by making the next Fable game free to play, because evidently they learned nothing from AOEO and Flight.    
  • I don't think so. Steam games are the only good PC games around these days.
  • That's subjective for sure. I really like WoW, even thought the payment barrier is an issue that keeps me from it (and has for more than a year). League of Legends isn't on Steam and has a massive following. EA has several popular titles not put on Steam (like Battlefield and Dragon Age).
  • True, but 99 percent of PC games come out on Steam. Just a few EA games and MMOs end up skipping over it.
  • Yes, that's somewhat true, but that covers the full PC slate of games from EA, which isn't insignificant. They are arguably the top publisher in the world, and not having their PC gameso n Steam keeps people from experiencing some or all of the games in franchises like FIFA, Battlefield, Need for Speed, Mass Effect, Dead Space, Dragon Age, The Sims, Titanfall, and Crysis. The vast percentage of games are on Steam, but there is still a lot of content it doesn't get, just because of EA and those MMO/MOBA releases that stay off of Valve's distribution service. While I wouldn't come close to say that people exclusively getting games via Steam are crazily missing out on gems they shouldn't live without, I WOULD say that a comment such as Lauren's "Steam games are the only good PC games around these days," is easily debated, at the very least.
  • She's just generalizing. I'm sure she didn't mean that World of Warcraft isn't a good game or anything. ;) As for EA, that Origin biz-ness just makes me glad I can play on consoles.
  • Yes, you are correct Paul. If one takes into account PC gaming as a whole, Steam has the majority of good games; however, there are some non-Steam games that are good.
  • Agreed, all of the secondary DRM drives me nuts. After learning that Watch Dogs required a UPlay account, I almost took the game back on principal, it made me so mad. I shouldn't have to share personal information and remember yet another username/password combo to play a game I've already forked over $50+ for. Luckily, they tie that stuff into your LIVE account pretty well on Xbox, so you don't have to actually manage the account at all.
  • So everything new we're trying is paid placement is it? Wish I knew where the money went in that case... You guys (maybe not you) have been asking for content like this. So here it is.
  • Didn't want to offend you guys. I was just wondering why steam as the distribution platform gets so much attention in a game review.
  • Steam is well known and a lot of people are in the Steam community, so it is easy to find friends to play with. Plus Steam has achievements. The quarterly Steam sales also make it popular with gamers.
  • True, you really can't be the steam sales for value. We've seen some pretty good Xbox One sales but nothing as close to the savings you can get on steam at least a couple of times a year.
  • Thank you! I like it, since PC gaming is the only type of gaming I'm interested in.
  • This is my favorite Rogue-like right now. I love all the music and the control system. Just a fun game all around, even if it's still in Early Access.
  • Thanks for adding this as a weekly article. I'm not interested in consoles but I love PC gaming, especially Steam games.
  • Seconded
  • Same here, never had a console and never plan to buy one, but been playing PC games for over 25 years.    
  • Happy you enjoyed it! I hope you do read our console game reviews that apply to PC as well, such as ScreamRide, Ori and the Blind Forest, etc. I want to emphasize that these games are also available on Windows more, but often we have to exclude that from the review headline due to length.
  • I'd be more inclined to read those if the headline stated the games are also available for PC. When I see "Xbox" I ignore it, since I have no interest in any game consoles. Maybe the headline could include "ABC Game [Xbox/PC]" or something like that. That would get and keep my attention, and I would read the article.
  • Gotta show your WC spirit! Like, we do usually at least mention PC availability in the pre-break intro. But there really is a hard limit on headline length (especially if we want it to be easily Tweetable), unfortunately.
  • I'll retweet even if I didn't read it myself. I know a lot of people like Xbox/PS4 even if I don't.
  • 'PC' is two letters surely you can make that into the headline. ;)
  • It ends up being six characters because you have to say "and PC." We prefer to say Windows, which is even longer. But yeah, it's something we're discussing behind the scenes. Maybe we'll mention PC in the headline sometimes, depending on what the staff decides.
  • I think it is a step in a right direction for game section. Not all about Xbox. I dislike this game artsyle though.
  • I would be interested to play this game with some mp3's that have irregular time signatures and see how it handles them.
  • I made a friend play it with Snarky Puppy's Bent Nails and it seemed to do pretty well. And considering no one really knows the time signature for the first half of that song, it didn't feel off and I was impressed. Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • How is this related to Windows/Microsoft ? Steam is on Mac/Linux
  • And windows. I can't believe I actually had to state that.
  • I know its on windows but my point still stands.
  • No, it doesn't and it never did. Shoot, you didn't even make a point to have stand. You asked how this is realted to Windows. The game and DRM software are on Windows, so that's how they are related. Microsoft Office is available on OSX, Android, and iOS, so would articles about it stop? Should Cortana articles stop if it makes the jump to the other mobile platforms?
  • Office and Cortana are both owned by Microsoft. articles about them would make sense but articles about steam and a game thats on steam dont. For god sake the name of the site is windows central this is aint a video game reviee site.
  • Review*
  • We've been reviewing games for all four years I've worked here, and even before that. let it go. ~ ~
  • Half of those were Xbox titles which are related to Microsoft/Windows.
  • So what? I take it they also shouldn't have articles like the T-Mobile, Facebook, and Yahoo ones that are on the front page right now. I'm also guessing you went in and complained about those, unless you're only complaining abotu the gaming articles because you don't like games, and these rants are based solely on what you like, and not about what is sensible for site coverage.
  • This is the first time i rant about something in windows central. Also i like games most of the times im eather playing on My 360 or on my PS3.
  • The first paragraph covered that pretty well. Also, see Keith's response.
  • 95% of Steam's user base are Windows users. Out of 4833 games listed on Steam, 33% have a Mac version, 20% have a Linux version and 100% have a Windows version. It may support the other Operating Systems, but even Microsoft knows that Steam is the center of Windows gaming with 125 million active user base that no one can simply ignore.
  • This game have great music
  • Great article. I think you did a great job explaining how the rogue like features work in the game. I am pretty terrible at the game. And yes..the music is fantastic.
  • this game is great and they havent even finished it yet, everyone shoud play it
  • Interesting and different game, I like the review. As with Ori, I'm glad you explained the roots of the genre, because it's another I've heard, but never really understood. I'll have to pass on this for now, as I'm not an Early Access fan myself, but it's a pretty cool-looking game. If this ever makes the jump to the Xbox One, I'd love to see Microsoft get Xbox Music integrated into the game. It's something I would generally like to see happen with Microsoft and music-based titles. It's pretty rare that a game's soundtrack registers with me, let alone in a positive way, so I've always preferred for music-based titles to allow for use with your own library (as Audiosurf and Beat Hazard did).
  • Awesome article! I still have to check this game out. One thing I love about rogue-type games like this and Rogue Legacy is they are great games when you just don't have much time to play. Downside though is they can have the opposite effect and have the dreaded "one more run" syndrome. Glad you covered the controller support as well. Kind of wondered how well it worked on a controller and hope they can iron it out before it officially launches.
  • Thanks dude! I agree, they are very addicting despite the short play sessions. I am thinking about playing it right now. :D
  • If these nom Xbox related game reviews will be something that shows up regularly, please let me hide them and not get notifications about them. I've preferred WC for a long time due to their SPECIFIC content, not much about non-Microsoft/OS related stuff. I'm not here to read about steam games, if I even cared about steam games I would've asked some steam-pc-masterrace-idiot I know, not check WC. Add filters in the app, come on!
  • It is Microsoft-related content. Windows Central is right in our name. I don't think one Steam review per weekend is going to hurt you, man. Also, I dislike stereotypical "Master Race" people as much as the next guy, but not all PC gamers are like that. Look at me, I play Xbox One and Windows and all kinds of stuff, and I'm not like that.
  • I also play PC games, mostly old PC games like Total Annihilation, and games that generally would be awkward to control on a console (Starcraft 2), but most people that play ex Battlefield on PC prefer PC and complains about people playing it on a console. Btw by non-Microsoft/OS related stuff I mean stuff like this, Steam games. You guys have broaden your target audience maybe a bit much. I'd prefer to focus on Windows/Phone/Xbox/Microsoft/MS Services news. Not taking the "relative to Windows" so far as a game can run on Windows, cause that means you could do articles about iTunes, Fruity Loops, Creative suite as well.
    Anyhow, a filtering function in the app would be useful. There are times I miss interesting articles cause there's too many articles that I don't care for at all.
  • Steam is the most popular current delivery system for Windows games. A lot of people asked for a little more coverage of Windows games, so that's what this is. As always, we're fine with you just skipping over articles that don't interest you.
  • God the last thing I want to read on a site called Windows Central is a game I can play on my Windows PC!     J/K Paul.  Game looks great, I'm hopeful a console port is in the future.  I do suck badly at rhythm gams though, I have absolutely no rhythm.